Meeke holds overnight lead, two Hyundais crash out
Kris Meeke leads Rally Catalunya overnight, as a double Hyundai crash harmed its World Rally Championship manufacturers’ bid and left a pair of M-Sport Ford Fiestas on the podium.
In SS12 both Dani Sordo, second overall, and Andreas Mikkelsen, sixth, crashed their Hyundais out of the event by hitting the same rock.
Sordo had remained on the leading pace throughout the morning and took second the stage before he crashed.
Mikkelsen had led overnight on his first outing in a Hyundai i20 WRC in competition, but the switch to asphalt on Saturday meant the Norwegian was not quite at home. He had been attempting to learn more about the Hyundai on asphalt before his own incident.
That promoted Sebastien Ogier, who passed Ott Tanak on the same SS12 stage, into second, with just 1.5s separating them after Ogier went quickest on the superspecial that concluded the day.
M-Sport entered Rally Spain with a 64-point lead in the manufacturers’ title race and, with Ogier and Tanak on the podium, looks to extend that lead with Wales Rally GB and Australia remaining in the season.
At the front, Meeke’s day was formed by an epic run over the first stage of the morning.
He did not show blistering pace for the rest of the day but did what was necessary to keep his Citroen comfortably at the head of the order.
After taking second on the final stage of Saturday to Ogier, he leads the Frenchman by 13s.
Juho Hanninen scored two fastest times on the first loop of Saturday morning and, although he failed to win any stages in the afternoon, found himself fourth overall after Sordo and Mikkelsen’s departures.
Thierry Neuville recovered to fifth after taking a fastest time through SS10 in his fightback after hydraulic issues in the morning loop.
His Hyundai stalled between stages and in trying to claw back time he crashed on the road section to SS9, meaning he accrued 30s in penalties for getting to the stage late.
Neuville ends the day 53.2s behind leader Meeke, although a more realistic target is Hanninen – he is 19.2s behind the Finn heading into Sunday’s six stages.
Esapekka Lappi turned around his day after an inconsistent morning, matching the strong pace of his team-mate Hanninen to overcome Mads Ostberg for sixth on the final stage of the day.
Ostberg is undergoing his first event on asphalt in a 2017 car, his privately-run Ford Fiesta WRC, and had a small off in the morning before finding his feet in the afternoon to hold seventh.
Stephane Lefebvre and Elfyn Evans sit eighth and ninth, with Eric Camilli 10th.
Teemu Suninen has dominated the WRC2 class for R5 cars, leading Jan Kopecky by 44.4s in his M-Sport Fiesta.
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